When Maya (name changed), from Mumbai, started missing her periods, she thought she might be pregnant. Well, she was only 35.
But a visit to her gynaecologist changed all that. The doctor said her irregular periods, hot flashes and anxiety were actually an onset of menopause.
The average age of menopause globally is 51 years but it is just 46.2 years in India, which is much less than our global counterparts. This is an important biomarker of not only loss of fertility but also an increased risk of various midlife diseases and problems. Most importantly, many of these problems can be prevented and tended to by timely recognition and intervention through food and lifestyle modifications.
After menarche and pregnancy, menopause is one of the three key lifestages of a woman’s life. Menopause is the longest lifestage stretching for 20-30 years and characterized by the decline of female estrogen hormone production. menopause is marked by 12 consecutive months of no periods. But the transition starts 5-10 years before reaching menopause, a phase that is called peri-menopause and continues for 5-10 years after menopause, a phase that is called post-menopause.
Menopause is not easy. As estrogen hormones declines, it creates an imbalance amongst other hormones and control in the brain. Symptoms include irregular menstrual cycles, hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, mood swings, excessive sweating, anxiety are among others that continue across the three phases of peri, during and post-menopause. Menopause is also characterized by an increased risk of heart diseases, memory loss and osteoporosis! Women visit the gynecologist at quite late stages and take very few measures to prepare for it.
A question that needs addressing is that why is still so little known or talked about, regarding this BIG transition?
This is because menstrual health is still considered a taboo in India. Menopause specifically goes unrecognized as it is often shrugged off as “old-age symptoms”. Actress Vidya Balan is one of the only actors in India to speak about menopause in public. Only earlier last year was it that Pallavi Johar released the first-ever Bollywoord movie “Painful Pride” that showcases the journey of menopause. Nearly 15 crore women in India go through menopause, and there is a Rs 300-crore market for people to venture into as of today.
However, with increasing awareness the menopause market is sure to explode. It is imperative to look into the following pointers to ease into menopause without fretting too much over it.
Step 1: Recognize it with self-care
For us women, the absolute first step in addressing menopause is understanding it and recogzing its symptoms with the intent of self-care.
Menopause symptoms break our self-confidence and is mistaken as the end of a our vitality. However, none of that is true. Like every change, menopause comes with its pain, but brings an opportunity to evolve. Many women have achieved their best work in their 40s!
So let that not bring you down, assign what you are feeling to "mMenopause", and share what you are going through with people around you to build the support network.
For a man, women play a key roles at workplace, in our family life, in our friend relationships. Not understanding, emphathizing and supporting her will not do justice to her support system. Menopause needs to be understood by men and women alike.
Step 2: Eat right to prepare your body for menopause
While menopause is inevitable, there are natural ways to transition smoothly through this life-changing phase. Food plays a critical role.
Include phytoestrogens in diet
“Phyto” is a Greek word that means “plant.” Estrogen is a female hormone that regulates functions in both women and men. Phytoestrogens are plant-based compounds that mimic estrogen in our body. So when we eat phytoestrogens, our bodies may respond as if our own estrogen were present, extremely helpful during menopause to trigger the control centers and balance the changes due to declining estrogen.
Key Sources of phytoestrogen include black cohosh, sesame seeds, broccoli, carrots, legumes (beans, peas, peanuts) and licorice root
Consume calcium and vitamin D-rich foods
Menopause can lead to the weakening of bones, increasing the risk of osteoporosis due to the hormonal changes. Calcium and vitamin D are associated with good bone health, so it’s crucial to get enough of these nutrients in your diet. Foods that are calcium-rich, including dairy products like yoghurt, milk and cheese. green, leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens and spinach have lots of calcium too. It’s also plentiful in tofu, beans, sardines and other foods. If you don’t get exposed to the sun much, consuming supplements or increasing food rich in vitamin D may prove to be significant
Eat healthy fats
Menopause is also associated with vaginal dryness and dryness in skin. Including healthy fats like avocado, nuts, and seeds help replenish the lost texture of the skin.
Also, drink 8–12 glasses of water a day to reduce dryness.
Have lots of fruit and vegetables
Fruits and vegetable are essential sources of micronutrients in our body. Micronutriesnts get often ignored but they are deeply responsible for nourishing our hormones. Fruits and veggies are also great for weight loss and weight maintenance as they’re low in calories and can help you feel full.
Step 3: Exercise regularly and stay active
Regular exercise is associated with better health. Exercising three hours per week for one year improved physical and mental health and overall quality of life in a group of menopausal women. Regular exercise has also been proven to help against heart disease, obesity and osteoporosis. I highly recommend doing light weights exercises for menopausal women to help build bone strength to prevent the onset of osteoporosis.
Step 4: Choose natural formulations. Be cautious before taking medications
As much as possible consume natural products and natural formulations to manage menopause. Chemicals in medicines can help in a few symptoms but lead to increased risk of other diseases.
Consuming prescribed medication may be considered if the body shows severe symptoms that affect the quality of life or if nonpharmacological methods do not give the desires results.
Estrogen-based hormone therapy is an option, though the decision to opt for this treatment depends on multiple factors, including a woman’s preferences, the presence of complications, for example, a history of breast cancer or heart disease, the intensity of these symptoms, side effects, etc. Hormone therapy has been known to increase the risk of memory loss and impact brain health. Hence, the risks and benefits of medication must be carefully weighed based on the specific situation of each individual.
With the restrictions in important conversations in our Indian society, women must remember that menopause is not an illness. It’s a natural part of life and must be addressed more openly and freely with the purpose of creating awareness. Though its symptoms can be difficult to cope with, eating right nutrition and exercising regularly may help the transition be a little smoother. Trying out the tips above can make your time during menopause beyond easier and more pleasant.
(Author is the co founder of '&ME' and ForAnima. She also has over a decade of working experience in consulting and marketing)